Br Marie-Nizier (Jean-Marie Delorme) to Fr Colin, 13 June 1849
D’après l’expédition, APM OW 208 Delorme, Marie-Nizier
Clisby Letter 81. Girard doc. 814
Introduction and translation by Br Edward Clisby FMS
In compliance with the Superior-Generals’s instructions, Marie-Nizier provides further information about the life of Father Chanel. He recounts two incidents, one relating to Chanel’s earlier wish to go as a missionary to America (6), the other to his deciding to join the Society (7). When Fr Pierre-Jean Loras, superior of the minor seminary at Meximieux during Chanel’s time there, left for the American mission in the autumn of 1829, Chanel and his friends, Bret and Maitrepierre, appear to have seriously thought of joining him.  Loras, then, may be the friend Chanel wrote to later to inform him he was going to Oceania instead. The three may still have had this intention when they began to consider a future in the Society of Mary about the same time. The second incident Marie-Nizier refers to, which is not mentioned in “Origines Maristes”, would have taken place then in 1829 or 1830. This is the last the Brother has to say about Chanel until the appearance of Bourdin’s biography in 1867.
He introduces these stories with the observation: “What follows may still be of some use to you.” (5). Batallion had already sent off the report Colin required just before Christmas 1847. “Finally this year 1847.” the bishop writes, “on a fresh visit to Futuna, we examined Fr Servant’s document seriously, compared it with the reports we already had ourselves and those we had obtained again from our dear Br Marie-Nizier and the leading persons of the island whom we called before us on the 5th December of this year 1847, and whose dispositions we received in the presence of the two kings of the island, Frs Servant and Favier and dear Br Marie-Nizier who had been our saintly missionary’s inseparable companion …” (Rozier p 165).
The rest of the work refers to the brother’s work as a doctor. His request for medical supplies and a treatise on medicine (10) simply repeats that of Chanel in a letter of May 1840 (AM p 286) and he shares the same sentiments towards the sick, who certainly appreciated his intentions (3, 4). Br Joseph Ronzon has more to say on this subject in his biography of the brother.  Apart from these items and the titles of a few books (13), we have no idea of the contents of his list (9).
Ronzon has reproduced this letter in his edition of Marie-Nizier’s letters (LMN 68-71).  Rozier has also extracts in PC pp 168-9 (where he gives the letter’s date as 23 June).
Text of the Letter
- Very Reverend Father,
- I am overjoyed at finding a fresh opportunity for letting you know how pleased I am able once more to communicate with the kindest of fathers!
- I am not so presumptuous as to write to you at length on any topic. With regard to myself, I shall limit myself to this observation: Everywhere. alas, I come across the shoots of the disastrous fruit which brought about that first fall in the earthly paradise, with all its sad consequences. Or rather, the same monstrous tempter is lying in wait, just as then, to lure me into various combats, and I can tell you, they are almost as many as the moments of my life … But, as I always like to remind you, the letters I have had the joy of receiving from you are the inexhaustible springs from which I draw great consolation. If only I were worthy of the inestimable favour of receiving them frequently.
- As in the past, I am going to share with you a few little things which concern me especially. Please bear with me, for I know what I am going to say may be of very little consequence - it is nothing new. But I feel a kind of need to tell you. A young man, full of good qualities, was struck down by pulmonary consumption and carried quickly towards the grave. He could neither lie nor sit down nor lean - the only position he found relief in was to squat on his heels night and day. I never heard it said he ever made the slightest complaint. He was still in this painful position when, one day, one of his sisters, a woman of edifying life, came into the presbytery compound. What do you want? I asked her. I have come, she told me, unable to hold back her tears, I have come to ask you to go and see so and so (her brother) who is in great pain. We are afraid his sufferings may make him apathetic, that his heart will weaken (that is to say, either he will lose patience or he will forget to suffer like a Christian) and we don’t know what to say to him. You can offer him some words to sustain and encourage him. I cannot tell you, very Reverend Father, how moved I was within by this invitation, especially by the living and practical faith which, I am sure, inspired it.
- There was one woman who suffered for some days from very sharp pains. One night, I think it was past midnight, I was woken up by a woman who said: I have come from N. She never stops asking for some medicine from you to give her some relief. She is in great pain, and she is all the time urging us to ask you to come and give her some encouragement. Her heart, she says, is neutral, lukewarm (in a religious sense) so great is her pain. I gave her another medicine which had a beneficial effect. You see the pious simplicity of some of our converts! Where they imagine they should find cause to encourage their piety! I fear I would be abusing your kindness by prolonging here such accounts which might appear to perhaps flatter me.
- What follows may still be of some use to you. Still, I deeply regret not having remembered these two incidents from the life of Fr Chanel earlier. They may not have been reported in France, though that is where they happened. They might also probably be of not much interest, but they will at least be proof of my desire to comply exactly with your recommendation to me to write to you everything I know and provide the slightest details about the good Father’s life. One concerns his vocation to the apostolic life, the other his vocation to the religious life. I heard them both from his own mouth.
- Here are the circumstances, as far as I can remember them, in which he told me the first. I don’t know what in the course of the conversation prompted him to ask me what year I was born. In 1817, I answered. Well then, he informed me in his usual cheerful way, that’s the year I made up my mind to go on the foreign missions. You see it was not the decision of a single day, since I had thought about it for 18 years. He had first set his sights on America. He wrote, I don’t know in what year, to one of his friends who had preceded him there, not to count on him for that mission for he had since decided to go to Oceania.
- I don’t recall what made him supply me with a detailed account of the second, but it provides authentic proof of his great attachment to the Society of Mary. When he was about to enter, one of his friends or fellow-students (I forget which) did all he could to dissuade him. You want to enter a Society, he told him, which is only just starting off, which may not become established. If it fails, humiliation will be your only share. If only those leading the Society were competent men! (You must forgive me, Reverend Father, but I am only quoting someone else’s words). Here is what I remember the Father replied to this prophet of woe: The success of the Society does not depend on us at all. If no one enters, it will never be established. What does it matter if it doesn’t succeed! Humiliation is as good a share for me any other. And, after all, you don’t know those who govern this Society. When this friend, or so-called one, heard Fr Chanel was definitely leaving for Oceania, all he could do was beg him to forget anything he had said to hinder his vocation. It had all long vanished from Fr Chanel’s good heart, or rather, no resentment lingered, for, I believe, he never mentioned anyone had opposed his inclinations.
- I cannot finish without commending myself to your prayers. Please pray for me, my very Reverend Father, I certainly need it. I beg you also to say some Masses for me to Our Lady of Fourvieres for my intentions.
- Please accept the expression of my sentiments.
- I have the honour of being with deep respect and sincere obedience,
- My very Reverend Father,
- Your very humble, very submissive,
- and unworthy son in J. and Mary,
- Br Marie Nizier
- PS I must tell you, only after reflection, hesitation, and prayer, that I have summoned up the courage to ask you for the use of the books and things on the list I am enclosing, and to beg you to have them sent to me. After all the requests I have already made, I must admit, very Reverend Father, that if this paper could reflect my feelings on recalling so many impositions on you and how wearisome they must have been for you, you would see it blush before your eyes and screen these requests from your sight.
- I acknowledge it is a lot, and perhaps too much to ask, and too often. But I excuse myself with the thought that I may perhaps have a certain justification because of our remoteness from libraries for borrowing. Two considerations give me encouragement in this internal conflict of mine and impel me to overcome all obstacles to making you a simple presentation of these requests. I am aware it is not my job to ask for the medical supplies and the treatise on medicine. But the various requirements of the converts I have to see when they come to us for remedies for their illnesses impel me to do so. (After all, I was once told, among other things, when you are given the end, you are given the means. Now the end here being the care of the sick, I imagine the means are to request what is needed for that purpose). Almost every day situations arise which make me more and more conscious of the need. These poor people, deprived of everything, often come asking, and how can we satisfy them when there are no medicaments, or they are in such short supply that once we have administered them only a few times they have run out? They come asking day and night. Sending them away is to risk their becoming discontented; they might convince themselves you despised them. What else to do in this case except to make a direct appeal where I think I can find help to enable me to carry out this responsibility? That is my first consideration.
- No one will probably guess where I obtained the second consideration. Here is its source. Before the death of the Reverend Father, the holy martyr, Chanel, I asked his opinion about a list of requests I was sending to France (for I was afraid of asking for too much). To help me to resolve my doubt he told me, “Ask a lot,” or “Keep on asking”. This succinct and encouraging statement has come back to me and increases my boldness. But still (I frankly admit) I quote the words here more to cover up the embarrassment I feel for making these requests so often than to make you accede to my wishes. For, once having set before you my requests, which should be regarded simply as the premature offspring of my imagination, I have no other desire nor any consideration in this regard than: Fiat voluntas tua, and I submit to that with a sincere heart.
- If there is any inconvenience caused by these requests of mine, I am resolved, very Reverend father, to withdraw them as soon as I become aware of it.
- The list contains so many things I dare add only the following: History of France, Ancient History, the Fables of La Fontaine.
- J. Coste, G. Lessard, Origines Maristes (1786-1836), Vol 2, 1961, pp 658-9, note 7.
- Joseph Ronzon fms, Jean-Marie Delorme. Frere Marie-Nizier. 1995 pp 147-9.
- Les Lettres de Frere Marie-Nizier, presentees par Frere Joseph Ronzon, 1994.
- In Ronzon’s collection, this paragraph appears to end with a variant: “… which have no value except in our imagination.” (LMN 69).
- A possible interpretation of Marie-Nizier’s strange use of the word “avortons”. Harrop’s Shorter French and English Dictionary has “Puny, undersized, stunted, man or child” for this word, but it is difficult to fit this into this context.
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